Yeltsin’s power may be weakening, but, given the extent of executive power in Russia’s system, it didn’t keep him from once again coming out on top. And he appears poised to come out on top yet again this coming Wednesday, when the Duma will take its first vote on the nomination of Sergei Stepashin to replace Primakov as prime minister. The reason is simple: Should the Duma refuse to approve Stepashin on Wednesday, Yeltsin can put forward a different candidate for the second vote and if that candidate is not approved, yet another candidate for the third and final vote. Thus were Yeltsin to offer up Anatoly Chubais the third time, the Duma would be faced with the choice of voting for their worst nightmare or giving a third thumbs down, after which it would be dissolved and new elections called. This explains why, the Duma has, as speaker Gennady Seleznev put it over the weekend, “no strong allergy” to Stepashin.

For those who still needed convincing, the week’s events showed once again the degree to which Russian politics is a one-man show. And given that one man’s tenuous health and increasingly erratic behavior, it is no accident that Russia is Our Home Duma faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, in an interview with Duma faction leaders on Sunday, said that Stepashin’s single biggest task would be ensuring that Yeltsin’s peaceful exit from the political stage next year, when his term finishes. Ryzhkov openly said that Yeltsin is “dangerous” in his “current condition.” In the same interview, Grigory Yavlinsky said he would seek similar assurances from Stepashin, including a guarantee that there would be no political “adventure” involving a union with Belarus. Last week, Yavlinsky told a newspaper that it is “entirely possible” that Yeltsin is contemplating a union with Belarus as a way of prolonging his stay in power.


The runoff election for the head of the Russian republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, located in the North Caucasus, went ahead Sunday after several weeks of violent incidents, including the fire bombing of electoral headquarters. The vote was almost canceled when dozens of polling stations failed to open on time. In the end, the turnout was heavy–over 60 percent. Early returns put Vladimir Semenov, former commander of the Russia’s ground forces, ahead of Stanislav Derev, mayor of Cherkessk, the republic’s capital. The republic’s previous head, Vladimir Khubiev, was appointed by President Boris Yeltsin. Once the winner is determined from the Karachaevo-Cherkessia contest, all 89 of Russia’s regions will have elected leaders.